The Urgency of NINNO’s ‘Simmer’

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“The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.” – George Orwell, Why I Write

When Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich first used the term “post-truth” in an essay for the progressive newspaper The Nation in 1992, the internet was in its developmental stage. The new age of information has since reached a terrifyingly massive scale, but as we go through the times, the farther we tread an ironic path to quote Tesich, of us as a free people who “freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world.” Two decades later, 2016 has uniquely and tragically embodied this concept to people’s utter dismay or determined denial.

It is of utmost relevance to understand why art plays an important role in shaping our perspective of life’s intricacies and trivialities, a reason why “stay woke” is not merely a millennial catchphrase to invoke on social media, but a valid rallying cry to a world asleep. NINNO spoke or rapped about socially relevant issues on several occasions, one of the underlying themes that Third Culture Kid brought back to discussions in hip-hop. Sure, ‘conscious rap’ has been around since the ’80s in America’s Reaganomics and local emcees have previously made politics and social issues a focal point in their songs, fracturing the genre’s novelty appeal to the Filipino audience and the notion that it’s sole function is to entertain, and substance is optional, if not entirely not in the agenda. But for most part, the topic remains in periphery in local music.

It is one reason why it isn’t surprising to hear a work such as NINNO’s described as ‘brazen’, or even tagged as political. It is also not surprising for his songs to be misconstrued as a proponent of partisan politics that can feed false dichotomies between both ‘sides’. In fact, on ‘Simmer’, NINNO is brazen on laying down a dichotomy, one often seen as ultimately rigid: of justice and crime.

Director Michael Manalastas capably fleshed out the visuals for ‘Simmer’ in piercing and haunting candor. NINNO chose to play three characters whose lives are almost congruent with impersonality and violence: a soldier, a writer, and a ‘suspect’ – whose tales, more often that not, end up as a casualty, a liability, and/or a statistic. NINNO’s fictional take on Juan Dela Cruz, instead of using his own name in said characters, imparts that none of us are spared from meeting the same fate if crimes against the governing power are penalized with death under the cloak of ‘justice’. It is a commentary far less about political leanings but more about a political attitude: that justice is an entitlement, that for the sake of peace we must war against those who want to disturb it, and that sentiments opposed to the ruling power can be deadly.

‘Simmer’ galvanizes with its searing visual commentary the realities of our time – not just history – the actions and inactions we are all culpable of. As long as systematic oppression remains entrenched in our society, our freedom remains to be in vain.

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The Year Chance Said “Don’t You Color Out” Just When I Was About To

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This year, my “Best Of” playlist was shaped by an inward sense of strengths and defeats. There’s no contention that 2016 was an extraordinary mess, but it has undoubtedly produced an interesting, insightful soundtrack of sorts (depends on who you ask). It’s easy to pluck the best out of them, songs that mattered deeply to me. And a year that yielded full-length releases from my heroes is perhaps the only thing that made sense in 2016. That, and at one point, standing within spitting distance of Kanye West (those lights were hot).

Some specifics: 3/4 of this playlist is comprised of hip hop cuts, many of which plumbed the depths of self-examination and unraveling, which literally kept me from mental breakdowns. For better days, there’s Anderson .Paak, whose stage presence alone is intoxicating, and threw in a Donna Summer classic, which was a part of Netflix’s The Get Down playlist, and a song I danced to countless of times this year.

But if I must really grunt, the unavailability of Musical O’s ‘House Tea’ (and a follow-up record) on Spotify – one of this year’s finest in local music, as far as everyone’s concerned – is just another reason why this year sucked.

NOT My Top Songs 2016

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I don’t think my listening habits were significantly different from that of last year’s, but somehow, this playlist doesn’t reflect that. Out of 101 songs, I would have thought that Spotify, with its mostly decent ‘Discover Weekly’ playlists (where most of these songs are from), will capture my relationship with music this year quite accurately. Compared to 2015’s year-end compilations (Year In Genres, etc. – which I thought were very interesting) I think my six-year-old iPod Classic’s ‘Recently Played’ playlist outdoes Spotify any day. It’s largely comprised of SoundCloud producer cuts, with some songs I streamed frequently at work to tune out background chatter, around 10 I genuinely loved, and some I really enjoyed looping for days (i.e. Anderson .Paak’s songs).

I do not understand how a song like Sud’s ‘How We Play’ got in this as I didn’t even listen to the whole song. And that was one time. When it popped in my notifications. So egregiously inaccurate, because I am very particular in curating playlists.

To rub salt into the wound, James Reid’s ‘Randomantic’ was nowhere near on top of the list. Spotify ‘My Top Songs 2016’, like many things about 2016, you suck.

(Don’t) Stream the offending material:

35.2°C Not dead, not living

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“…it’s a physical thing, like it’s physically hard to open your mouth and make the words come out. They don’t come out smooth and in conjunction with your brain the way normal people’s words do; they come out in chunks as if from a crushed-ice dispenser; you stumble on them as they gather behind your lower lip. So you just keep quiet.”

It went downhill from May. I just refused to accept it. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that I downplayed it, because I kept thinking, “this’ll be all over soon.”

‘Soon’ didn’t come. By now, I feel clobbered half the time, the other half I spend going through the motions, feigning interest and normalcy through a routine I’ve eased into in order to remain functioning – a diversion of sorts so I can rest from crying. But crying nowadays turned out to be the most effective way to exhaust myself so I can sleep. Without which, I lay awake for hours tossing and turning, sometimes thinking whether or not my bedsheet is thin or think enough to work as a noose around my neck. This has been my every day for weeks now.

On days I can muster the energy to go to work, which I am grateful for having an environment where I can absolutely keep to myself with minimal socializing involved (an occasional small talk here and there, at most), but it was physically exhausting for maybe three months now, having to wake up an extra hour early because the traffic in the metro (getting home is a worse, everyday ordeal) is just excruciating and I find myself agitated, hissing and kneading my thighs so I won’t have to punch something, someone. Maybe in these attempts to alleviate myself with being so emotionally unequipped to handle being stuck in traffic (and many, many trivial situations that are almost always not my doing), I began scratching myself relentlessly. I didn’t really notice it, until one weekend while talking to my brother, he interrupted me, “Kanina ka pa kamot ng kamot,” with my fingernails halfway through digging into a large, warm patch of red on my arm. But I think I find this as a relief, in all manners and sorts, instead of thinking, which only lead to dreadful thoughts.

For the last few months, I’ve had few conversations with some people. Lately, they are far and between, and most of them involving standard gig prep talk. And here’s the thing, and I’m sorry to admit it, but most of the time, I want them to be over. I have neither the heart nor interest to talk about organizing gigs, and the last two, while they felt close to normal, it was bogus. After what I thought was a better step, or even maybe a shadow of turning things around, was a fraud. I’m a fraud. Did I believe I am happy to drag myself out of my room to go someplace where there will be people that I will be forced to talk to, my friends included? Which part in Route 196 should I stay while waiting for the whole thing to be over, inconspicuously? I am not proud of these feelings. I don’t hate my friends, or people, but I just don’t have the energy. And maybe that’s worse, not calling the whole thing off. I already believe myself to be an unreliable friend, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to just (not) do it.

I dodge what few friends I have, and fewer of them, on their attempts to check in. I wanted to say that I’m sorry I haven’t felt like talking to anyone for months now, if I was being truly honest. I don’t know how to put into words that I wasn’t being a snob, or a bitch, or insufferable, but I don’t know what to say, what to talk about, because then I will break down and will bore or annoy or inconvenience anyone, everyone. I can’t think about having to seek professional help because I don’t have the money for it. When my uncles migrated to the US just a week ago, I felt relief wash over me, that finally, they can have a better life with the rest of our family over there than here, in this cruel, lawless place. But at the same time, I felt displaced, that I don’t belong here anymore. What is the point of staying here?

I cry. I do it not because it’s supposed to help, but because I can’t help it. It’s like that itch I can’t resist not to scratch. I should cry because not doing so feels worse, but then I never feel better afterwards. I just do, until I fall asleep. I can’t talk about it and I never intended to write about it, but I tried. I’m trying. What’s been putting me off, I guess, is the thought of being melodramatic, that I can just suck it up, that I’m only making problems where there shouldn’t be.

I wrote this down because I had to say something. I attempted to read Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind Of A Funny Story, a book that’s been sitting on my shelves for more than a year now, but I couldn’t go on any further, it’s hard and it’s vivid. When I bought it, I was certain that I can read it and understand it and feel an emotional connection, but still can distance myself as to respect the pain the author went through, which ultimately engulfed his life. Now, I feel like I cannot disentangle myself from misery. There are bursts of what I always thought was something better, that things might be better, but they are too short to matter.

It’s difficult for me to explain myself, my silence, mostly. I can’t even answer my father directly when I told him I won’t be coming to work again tomorrow, like I didn’t today, and last Friday, his 61st birthday. How do I phrase myself?

“I’m not feeling well.”

“What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”

I’m still unsure how to answer that.

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TRACK: ‘4r Da Squaw’ – Isaiah Rashad

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The strength of The Sun’s Tirade, Isaiah Rashad’s new record is his flow. It feels like, nowadays, only Run The Jewels make explosively angry rap, for lack of better term. Everyone else sounds nonchalant, introspective, defeated, exhausted, frustrated, and in very rare cases such as D.R.A.M’s, Chance’s and Kanye’s gospels (well, Ultralight Beam and Highlights, at least), uplifting, joyous. This album opener (I listened to it at least five times before I finally moved on to the next track in the record) is the best way to set the tone for TST, with Zay completely mellowed out.

GIG: The Rest Is Noise 14 X 15

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I am terrible when it comes to following through gig promotions. I do keep track of stuff over at this visual-centric Tumblr page, and of course through relevant social media platforms, but that’s pretty much it. I just make posters.

But hey, we’ve been on a three-month break (that was me), but we’re back and we have two shows in September. We made sure we got a banging lineup on both dates. When The Rest Is Noise turned one during February, I was determined to make changes (~for the better~), and thankfully, Ian was supportive of said vision. I know, I know, it feels a wee bit different. And that’s for a reason*.

Don’t make me persuade you more. RSVP here, ya filthy animals.

(Update: 21.08.16; 1:07 PM – The poster was updated to include Ryoku in the lineup. I apologize for being a scatterbrain yesterday. – MC)

*Can be discussed in person on September 10 and 17 at Route 196.

VIDEO: ‘Nikes’ – Frank Ocean

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“I got two versions / I got two versions”

Normally, I do not review music videos but since this one has an ostentatious amount of inspirations from film and Frank’s previous works, and because I am out of my wits because of him since yesterday. Here’s my first impression of ‘Nikes’:

– This shot is straight outta the Nostalgia, Ultra mixtape cover (diff. car make and color)
– Plenty of shots are derived from older Stanley Kubrick and Gaspar Noe films
– This is like a polaroid of Frank in motion embracing his gayness with such vision and taste
– Thoughtful RIPs showing photos of A$AP Yams, Pimp C, and Trayvon Martin – loss in music, loss of life, loss of self (“That nigga look just like me”)
– The outro reminds you of why Frank Ocean attained his place in the ranks of great artists
– I’m most definitely reading too much into this, but “Acid on me like the rain” – CHANCE COLLAB?!

I thought my $2.99 Apple Music subscription was worth it for all these Frank blessings.